I spent some time in the autumn with a mixed group of younger high-powered professionals. What they all had in common was that they were either single, or if they were in relationships, they had no children. Young and fancy free – sounds fun right? Well ..no! This was not the season of goodwill but the season of discontent.
Workplace flexibility creates a the season of discontent
Chat moved on to their plans for Christmas. There was more than a little disgruntlement about the issue of how their offices would be staffed during the holiday season. Some companies now close completely, but others expect a level of skeleton manning. There seemed to be an unwritten expectation in all their organisations (cross sector) that when it came to allocating holidays there was a pecking order: employees with children would be given (or take) priority and then the singletons, would be expected to volunteer to organise cover amongst themselves.
These guys were not happy! Not just because they wanted to go skiing or the Maldives (although a few did) but because they had their own obligations and commitments which they considered to be equally important. In recent research I carried out on the priorities of Gen Y women, I saw that they were somewhat intolerant of workplace flexibility for women only and advocated flexibility for all.
David, a Consultant with a major audit company fumed “My parents are divorced and I need to make two family visits. It’s just not possible to do that in a few days. All I want to do is take my vacation time when I want it. Last year I provided weekend cover and worked late in December, so that the parents could go to school concerts and do Christmas things with their kids. Parents assume they are entitled to take the time off between Christmas and New Year. I will be expected to work. It’s not that I begrudge them flexi-time – but I think it should be offered to all”
There are also many different types of care and domestic or family responsibilities. Susan is single in her early 50s and has strong obligations to look after her widowed mother, now in her mid 80s. Peter’s wife has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and requires additional support. They claim , that the fact that an individual has no children doesn’t mean their commitments are necessarily any less demanding. In a C.C.H. survey carried out in 2007 in relation to unscheduled absenteeism, more than 60% of unscheduled absence is related to non sickness reasons, resulting in huge costs to companies.
Responsibility to and for self
But what about the employee who has no responsibilities for others, but simply wants workplace flexibility to allow them to look after themselves? As working days and commutes become longer, technology now offers many options to facilitate that. Workplace stress also causes significant organisational and health issues, so shouldn’t employees be encouraged to give their own needs priority?
Madeleine was more direct and took a firmer view. “People with kids feel that their family status puts them into a special category. Having children is a lifestyle choice. Couples know what the issues are when they make the decision to have a family. My boss quite often asks me to cover for her when she has to leave early or work remotely to deal with childcare issues ( she has 4 kids) .I’m totally OK with that, but when I wanted to go to the gym in office hours, because fitness is a high priority for me and after a 12 hour day, I’m too tired, it was suggested that I go at lunchtime. Lunchtime is for eating!
The irony might be that working Mums, the group which cries out for work place flexibility the hardest, would actually benefit if that perk became standard for all. Leanne Chase of Career Life Connection takes the matter one step further and suggests that with regard to workplace flexibility
“ for it to be universal we need to place a whole lot less emphasis on “family” “women” “care-giving” and “children.”
Could it be the protests from the singletons who want to look after themselves, or simply take time off at the holidays to relax and have fun, with no obligations at all, which will make a difference? The holiday period for many is a period of joy and giving. But for others it morphs into a season of discontent .
What do you think?
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